I just re-ignited my guilty passion for YA novel-to-film adaptations by finally getting around to watching The Maze Runner. Throw into the mix a truly political-sensibilities-confusing werewolf movie with Jason Momoa called, originally enough, Wolves – written and directed by David Hayter, of all people – and I’ve just had a really weird private renaissance: I want to write stories with male lead characters again.
I haven’t felt this way in, I dunno, a year? I’ve just started reading Tomorrow When The War Began, which I’ve heard is both an example of a male writer getting female characters right and an example of a male writer getting female characters wrong, but regardless is an example of a male writer writing almost exclusively lead female characters in all of his work, and I don’t think I want to be That Guy. Also, it’s been dawning on me over the past year or so that I really have written guys off as something of a stereotype, and as somebody who (supposedly) has faith in humanity and (definitely) does not condone stereotyping, I guess I should look into that.
And all of this has manifested itself in a desire to do something I haven’t done for a long, long time: to write something that won’t ever get finished.
This is not, technically, a thing that I’ve ever liked doing, but there are certain times when you see or read something that you just really want to blatantly copy, and so you set out to do it, and in the process of writing you end up info-dumping a lot just to keep yourself on-track but it bogs down the writing and slows the pace and in the end you can’t stand looking at it anymore. It’s something that I’ve stopped myself from doing for the past … possibly my entire adult life, actually. Well, my entire 20s. I stopped myself on the principle that energy spent on an unfinished project is wasted energy.
I now realise that this is absolute fucking bullshit.
Energy spent doing something you want to do is never wasted. Energy spent writing a story that you just so happen to never finish is also never wasted, because not only did you want to do it at the time, but at some point further down the line you might come back to it and realise that, actually, there’s some not-too-bad ideas in there that you could use somewhere else, or even the entire unfinished project. It gets the mind working, it sates your current urge to write that thing you want to write, and it sets you up in the long-run – it’s drafting. And drafting is always good.
So today I’m going to indulge in this old, familiar compulsion to write something that I kinda know isn’t going to “go anywhere” right now, but that maybe I’ll come back to and find is worth following through with later on down the track.
And I’m going to circumvent my need to justify shit I made up on the fly and write it into the thing I’m writing by writing it here instead, thus also writing a blog post on this writing blog that actually has something to do with writing. Let’s see how it turns out.
So, the first thing any good story needs is a premise.
Let’s start in the obvious place: the two movies that inspired me to write this post in the first place. We’ve got The Maze Runner, which is basically Lord of the Flies meets The Hunger Games only not as interesting as either (having not actually read Lord of the Flies I’m just giving it the benefit of the doubt here); and we’ve got Wolves, which is …
Not to devolve into a movie review, but Wolves simultaneously met and defied my expectations. I was expecting a really cheap, exploitative, hypermasculine power fantasy. What I got was an at least semi self-aware cheap, exploitative, hypermasculine power fantasy that honestly could have been far more sexist than I was expecting. There is a really weird sex scene that ends with both of the conventionally attractive teenage leads – who have chosen to get it on in a barn, literally rolling in the hay – turning into werewolves. We get all the expected camera panning over the woman’s naked body, and then suddenly she’s in this really cheesy full-body werewolf costume that is not even remotely sexy, and I have to admit that I at least appreciate the idea. It was a lot more subversive than what I was expecting.
But then there’s the straight-up exploitative stuff, like linking werewolves to rape culture and the big Alpha Wolf, played by Jason Momoa in a spectacularly too-good-for-this-film performance, having this backstory where he is the main dude’s father (which neither of them find out until halfway through the movie) through rape; but that’s subverted as well right at the end when he reveals that he told everybody he’d raped his lady-love in order to divert blame from her: her dad found out she was pregnant and threatened to kill her, so Jase offered himself up as bait to take the heat off her. I mean it doesn’t really make him any better of a person, as the plot of this movie basically revolves around trying to keep him from raping the lead female character because he wants a son, but there was some subversion, I guess? Maybe? Like not enough to redeem him but definitely interesting in terms of how the werewolf figure is used to explore gender roles and stereotypes?
But anyway enough of that: what does this give me in terms of a premise?
I could mush the two together. A bunch of adolescent/teenage boys who all happen to be werewolves are sent to a futuristic laboratory where they have to complete a series of tests for some reason?
Oh I like this.
It’s horrible, and I really like it.
Without getting into too much detail – Vampire Academy meets Fight Club.
Actually that crossover seems far more interesting than what I’m about to write but whatever.
Also that actually happens in VA I really should go back through that series and review it all the way through lots of interesting ideas there.
I just named my main character in this story about werewolves Tanner Wilde and I want to shoot myself.
Oh god, it’s happening already: exposition about nothing.
Does this ever happen to you? It must. It must happen to all writers. I’ve come full-circle: I used to believe that I was the only writer who ever had trouble staying on-track, and now I’d be mortally offended if there was even one single writer in existence who didn’t.
A common piece of writing advice is to start your book right in the middle of the action and then explain things later. You want that “hook”, the catchy bit of writing that draws the reader in and keeps them wanting more – sort of the counterpart to the cliffhanger ending, I guess.
Guess what common piece of writing advice I’m definitely not following?
Instead I’m taking this time to make my main character exposit on what it Really Means to be a teenager, something I find obnoxious whenever I read it and yet have, for some reason, elected to do myself.
Maybe I’ll just write “And then all the werewolves came and things got interesting” and go from there. Enough of this “character development” bullshit; this ain’t The Catcher in the Rye.
I hate that book so much.
Tanner Wilde’s friends are Troy and Deacon, because those are names that teenage boys can have. I understand teenage boys. I was one once, so you can’t argue with me. Teenage boys totally express themselves by comparing their stereotypical high school drama to adult drama with an air of mystery and awe. That’s all they do, actually. Bet you didn’t know that. But I do. Because I’m a writer.
I’m really feeling my age while writing this and I don’t like it. But I do prefer it to actually being a teenager, because holy fuck that was terrible. I’ll take a lack of authentic characterisation over a never-ending loop of self-loathing any day.
Troy and Deacon are now gone and therefore never existed to embarrass me by being the one responsible for creating them because this is a first draft and I am a writer.
Ah, un-examined misogyny. The cornerstone of heteronormative male identity.
When writing something on the spur of the moment, I often run into a dilemma with characterisation: I’ll often have an idea about how I can give my character a flaw, and run with it, and really like it. But then I’ll get really paranoid about being judged on what I’ve just written, and then immediately write some kind of disavowal as an extension of their characterisation. What ends up happening is that not only did I not trust myself to remember that, yes, this problematic character trait is meant to be problematic, but I also just killed any opportunity for character development further down the line. And I’m starting to think that this is probably a huge reason for why a lot of these spur-of-the-moment story ideas I follow through with never get written as full novels: because I don’t leave myself anywhere to go.
Here I’m already setting myself up for what could end up being a disaster: misogyny is a cornerstone of heteronormative male identity, and by setting up my main character to have it as a character flaw, I’m trusting myself to be knowledgeable enough about it in a moral sense that I’m capable of writing it well, as opposed to just making it even more offensive by the end of his character-arc. It’s a big ask, statistically and historically speaking. I probably wouldn’t trust another male writer if I heard them give this as a pitch. And on that logic, I’m not sure if I’m correct to trust myself. I think I am, but I’m me. I have a slight bias in that regard.
I guess if I ever do end up turning this into a novel, or incorporating it into one, I’ll find out.
Holy shit this potential first chapter actually has an arc in it, it’s so … refreshing. I rarely manage that. This is progress. Progress is good!
This was what worked about writing my other derivative YA thing: having a little mini-plot within each chapter, and once I ran out of those mini-plots I stopped writing it. This project will likely be the same, but for the moment I’m actually growing more interested in writing it the more I actually write it. I mean …
I might actually consider turning this one-off project into a full-blown novel attempt. It’s pretty enjoyable so far, and I can always flesh out the ideas a little more as I go along.
And hooooooooooooooly shit I just put a fucking love-triangle in this thing I am so ready to be a YA author so proud of myself for having overcome my compulsion to subvert every trope I come across and found the strength to play it straight for the sake of story well done Jason you magnificent normative bastard you
And hooooooooooooly shit I just came up with an entire plot I love it it’s so cliche it’s amazing
I mean okay maybe not an entire plot but enough to make an entire plot out of, key points and stuff. I’m on a roll!
I actually really hope I keep my enthusiasm for this project; it would be so fun to actually follow through with this and get it done super-fast. A mini Nanowrimo kinda thing; I can see this being a pretty short story, not even 80k words, and because it’s so simple … the possibilities!
FUCK BRAIN NO DON’T MAKE THIS INTERESTING IT’S SO CLICHE IT’S SO PURE DON’T MAKE IT INTERESTING
I think …
I think I managed to avoid it. I think I’m still a hack. I think so. But that was close. Too close …
After spending like an hour perusing a Goodreads list of werewolf books, I have discerned one thing: even though I’m not being remotely original, I am still bucking the trend. I’ll take it: results without effort are always welcome.
I have to say, I think werewolves are really interesting. When my PhD-writing friend finally gets some free time, the two of us are going to start co-writing a book about werewolves that I am really looking forward to. I just don’t think people trust werewolves to carry a premise on their own; they’re always seen as the cheap knockoff vampire, which we’ve build up to be this subject of endless fascination and mystery – not least because instead of turning into hairy man-beasts to reveal their “true nature” they’re sexy in a very creepy way all the time – and I think that’s just shallow.
Having said that, I don’t necessarily disagree that werewolves aren’t quite interesting enough to carry a whole story on their own, given the stories that currently exist about them. They’re either a kinky sex fantasy with even more consent issues than their blood-sucking rivals, or a very obvious allegory for masculinity – or, in the case of Ginger Snaps, which I am about to watch for the first time, going through puberty as a cisgender teenage girl. And there’s the whole turning-into-a-hairy-man-beast thing as well.
I think that last one is really what keeps werewolves from being quite as appealing as vampires; vampires can be sexy and horrifying all at once because they look like people, by and large. Werewolves are, at best, human-passing, and while there are plenty of narrative opportunities with the werewolf forced-transformation premise, it doesn’t do much for them in terms of sex appeal.
I write that sentence and already know I’m wrong, and it makes me sad.
Also I just realised I named the two stereotypical douche bag jock characters James and Kirk IT’S NOT INTENTIONAL I SERIOUSLY ONLY NOTICED JUST NOW THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE COMMENTARY
Nooooooooo I’m having interesting ideas and thoughts of ways to make it interesting and now I can’t stop …
But I think I should focus on writing this thing properly, rather than dividing my attention between this blog, Goodreads lists and also writing. Today has been a success though, because I felt like writing and then actually followed through with it, and it feels great. More of this please. This works well.